Fewer families able to get support for child care in Steamboat
Child care assistance program eligibility reduced because of limited resources
September 26, 2010
Need for supplemental funding
Vickie Clark, director of the Routt County Department of Human Services, requested about $165,000 in county reserves to provide services as part of the Child Care Assistance Program to all families in the county at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level. Clark said some of those families are currently on a waiting list, which was created in May because the need was larger than the amount of money allocated for the program. She said it would cost about $600,000 in fiscal year 2010-11 to provide child care services to all families in the county that are at or below 225 percent of the federal poverty level, the former eligibility level for the program.
Commissioners told Clark they would have to wait a couple of months to see whether there would be enough money in the budget to supplement the program through county reserves.
Steamboat SpringsSteamboat Springs — — Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct Vickie Clark's title with the Routt County Department of Human Services.Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct Vickie Clark's title with the Routt County Department of Human Services.
Steamboat Springs — Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Vickie Clark’s title with the Routt County Department of Human Services.
It's now more difficult to get child care assistance in Routt County.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners last week approved lowering eligibility for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program to 130 percent of the federal poverty level, from 225 percent. The change takes effect Oct. 1.
Vickie Clark, director of the Routt County Department of Human Services, said there's not enough money in the program's budget to provide assistance to the 29 children in 22 families currently receiving services. The solution she presented to the commissioners was the lowered eligibility level, and the commissioners voted Monday to approve the change. Clark said the amount of assistance provided this year in dollars is an 87 percent increase since 2007.
"That's the revenue I have to work with, and you can see my dilemma," she said. "I just have too much need."
Routt County's Colorado Child Care Assistance Program allocation for 2010-11 was $181,000, which includes state and county money. Clark has budgeted the program to cost $285,000 through the end of this year. In the past, the difference was made up through Colorado Works reserves, but that money is no longer available. The program gives qualifying families money — on a sliding scale based on income — to help pay for child care.
Clark said reducing the eligibility from more than twice the federal poverty level (the poverty line is $22,050 for a family of four) to just above it would reduce the number of children and families receiving services to 14 and 11, respectively. She said it also would affect other child care assistance programs in the county.
For example, Clark said First Impressions of Routt County, which is administered by the Department of Human Services, has a scholarship fund that serves families who, based on income, just missed qualifying for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program. The scholarship funding is provided through grants, Routt County United Way and the city and county's Human Resource Coalition.
Stephanie Martin, program supervisor for First Impressions' Early Childhood Council, said lowering the eligibility would cause a shift in the local families being served. Before, First Impressions could assist families at 226 percent of the federal poverty limit. Now, it's 131 percent, she said.
"Now, we're really leaving our middle-income families to hang out there to fend for themselves," Martin said.
The issue in Routt
Leaving out middle income may not seem like a big deal. But an examination of what that means to Steamboat Springs and county residents reveals why Martin is concerned.
According to the 2008 Self Sufficiency Standard for Colorado, a Routt County family of four — two parents with an infant and toddler — needed $65,791 annually just to pay bills. That figure is just less than three times the federal poverty level.
"At 299 percent of the federal poverty level, they are just making ends meet," Martin said. "That is what's so devastating about the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program not being fully funded and dropping the threshold. When you think about the average family living in Routt County, we're not able to help them."
The self-sufficiency standard indicated that a family in the county pays an average of $1,703 in child care expenses a month, or more than 31 percent of a family's annual income. Martin said child care costs locally range from $48 to $60 daily.
Tami Havener, executive director of the Family Development Center in Steamboat, said reducing the eligibility requirement for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program would make it difficult for other local child care centers to provide scholarships.
"I worry about the pressure it's going to put on other scholarship dollars," she said.
The Family Development Center's Discovery Learning Center, a preschool that serves about 80 children, provided more than $100,000 in scholarships the past two years. Havener said those scholarships — provided though private donations, the United Way and the Human Resource Coalition — are an increase from previous years.
Havener said another concern is if families lose child care assistance and can't afford to pay for it at full price, they may have to sacrifice work to stay home with their children. She added that despite the high cost for child care, many local centers only have a few openings, and she expects them to full by the ski season.
Need already high
Clark said the county created a waiting list in May for families who qualified for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program because the need outpaced available resources.
In 2007, she said, the funding allocation, in which the state provides 80 percent and the county covers the rest, was enough to serve all county families eligible for the program at 225 percent of the federal poverty level. Since 2008, she said, reserves from the Colorado Works program, which provides temporary assistance for needy families, supplemented the program.
However, Clark said recent legislation has scaled back Colorado Works, and the reserves have been depleted.
She said there now are more families on the waiting list than receiving services.
"I'm obviously trying to manage it with limited resources," Clark said. "To truly afford to do that, we can't take anybody off the wait list. … There's never been a wait list in this county, ever."
The waiting list and reduced eligibility for the program also hurts organizations such as First Impressions and child care centers that provide scholarships such as the Discovery Learning Center.
As of her nine-month scholarship report, which Martin completed this month, she said the average family receiving assistance from First Impressions was at 217 percent of the federal poverty level. Those families, many of whom were put on the waiting list, previously could have been served by the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program.
The same is true for Discovery Learning Center, Havener said. According to its nine-month report, the average family being served was at 210 percent of the federal poverty level.
Havener said a family of four at 130 percent of the federal poverty level makes about $28,000 annually.
"If you have two children and your child care costs $1,000 per each child per month, that's $24,000 of that $28,000," she said. "It's really not doable.”